Elle Canada link to Afghanistan stories

Elle Canada posted our story on Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and sidebars about Young Women for Change and Toofan Beauty Salon. The latter was edited away to nothing, so the story below is the original. The women in the final photo are sisters and co-owners of Toofan. http://www.ellecanada.com/living/culture/elle-world-writing-a-new-future-for-afghanistan/a/74065


Toofan Beauty Salon 

About 20 women, heads sprouting tightly pinned curls of black hair, sit gossiping on chairs while toddlers whiz about underfoot. Another half dozen women sit in front of Toofan beauty salon’s long mirror, watching their transformation from Kabul beauties to Bollywood sirens with dramatic eye makeup (always matching the colour of the dress), thick foundation and elaborate hairdos.

Toofan is a sanctuary — a place to discard the burqa and headscarves and escape from patriarchal, conservative customs. Femininity within the country isn’t honoured, and women are expected to embody humility and modesty by hiding their beauty from men. This means that most women are forbidden from keeping company with men who aren’t family members — a tradition that effectively keeps them from participating in politics or education. In Afghanistan, tragically, beauty is considered a sin.

Toofan, as well as Kabul’s many other popular salons, are places of subtle change and quiet public discourse. Here, says 20-year-old Zakiah Hakim, women discuss politics, the latest suicide bombings, as well as the minutiae of women’s daily lives that fill the air of beauty salons everywhere. Hakim, who studies abroad in London, England, is being primped for her sister’s wedding. I remark to her that she and the other clients all look like movie stars. “That’s the point,” Hakim huffs, fluttering false eyelashes that reach artfully arched brows. In Afghanistan, the genders are separated at Afghanistan weddings, allowing women to burst from the chrysalis of convention, exposing skin in shiny cocktail dresses and expressing—if only for a short time—their individuality and flare for fashion and glamour.

Even during the five-year reign of terror by the Taliban, Toofan was an oasis for women.  From 1996 to 2001, Toofan operated out of a private home as a ‘tailoring shop,’ says co-owner Fariba Ejtemai. Cosmetics were forbidden under the Taliban, but that didn’t stop some members from secretly sending their wives to Toofan to be dolled up for special occasions, Ejtemai says.

That salons like Toofan operate in the open is a sign of progress in Afghanistan. Salons are also one of the ways that women can achieve economic independence, says Ejtemai, whose four sisters — all Toofan co-owners — earn sufficient income to support their families and put their children through school.

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Elay Ershad – MP


DSC_4998swAfghanistan MP Elay Ershad looks out upon the elegant gathering of men and women under starry skies on the open-air terrace of Kabul’s Park Star Hotel. Two years into her tenure, and the public is still focused on her public deportment rather than her politics. Tomorrow, Ershad predicts, she will be condemned for mingling in a crowd of men. “I don’t care,” she exclaims.

A 43-year-old single mother, Ershad is working to make Afghanistan a better place for her daughters, aged 21 and 16. The biggest challenge, says Ershad, stylish in jeweled sandals, white headscarf, embroidered black tunic and pink lipstick, is the absence of rule of law. The country has excellent legislation criminalizing child marriage, forced marriage, rape and beatings. But the laws are rarely enforced. Ershad also criticizes the treatment of women in divorce court. “The judge is usually a man who says, ‘shame on you, why are you applying for a divorce?’ ” Divorce often means losing custody of the children. “Why does Parliament accept this much pain?” Ershad demands.

Kabul women’s shelter

DSC_2552swWe are seated in the living room of the Kabul Family Guidance Center and shelter for abused women. The home is traditionally furnished with large, soft pillows for visitors to sit on instead of chairs. We listen carefully as one resident, Fahima, haltingly describes through a translator why she fled to the shelter, which is at a secret location in Kabul to protect the women from violent family stalkers. While just a teenager, Fahima was forced to marry a man with “bad habits” who drank, took drugs and beat her “ a lot.” He also molested the couple’s daughter. Fahima is now seeking a divorce with the help of shelter lawyers. But a future without a brutal husband will be nearly as bad as one with, says Fahima. Society looks upon single mothers as it does “a prostitute.”

The reality is, Afghan women endure sustained torture, from broken arms to attacks with scalding water and acid. Others are victims of honour killings, called baad, when a man kills a female relative to restore a family’s ‘tarnished reputation.’ Such acts are just an excuse to murder a woman you don’t want anymore, says Lauryn Oates of Burnaby, who helped train surveyors for the UNICEF and Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, which was completed three years ago. The survey revealed how oblivious women are of their rights, Oates says. “When asked, ‘Do you think it is permissible for your husband to beat you,’ 91 per cent said ‘yes.’ Yet they all think it is unjust.”

Ironically, progressive laws exist to prevent such abuses. This includes the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), which was pushed through parliament by women MPs in 2009. It’s not just ordinary citizens but police and judges who are are ignorant of EVAW’s protections, Oates says. Unfortunately, “cultures are shaped by the people in power.”

Women lose out in other instances where judges invoke personal biases instead of law, says Afghan MP Elay Ershad. “The divorce judge is usually a man who says, ‘shame on you, why are you applying for a divorce?’

“Divorce often means losing custody of the children,” says Ershad, who is a single mother of two well-educated and independent-minded teenagers.